Kuna or Cuna are the indigenous people of Panama and Columbia who have the estimated population of 55,000 majority of which is living in Panama. Most of them are located in the San Blas Archipelago (Kuna Yala) which is situated along Panama’s northeast coast. Rest of Kuna people are settled in Darien province of Panama and a little number is in Colombia. The Kuna speak their own language called ‘Tule‘ or ‘Dulegaya‘. Some of the Kuna people are also familiar with Spanish and even some with English.
Although the western influence and modernism has affected in the lives of Kuna people yet the wonderful aspect is that they have maintained and continued their traditional living style and cultural values within their own autonomous territory.
Before the Spanish invasion the Kunas were living in Colombian region of Uraba and near the borders of Antioquia and Caldas. After the Spanish subjugation they started to move to the area where they are now settled Kuna Yala. At that time Panama was under the occupation of Spain and when Panama got freedom from Spain , the Kunas also began their struggle for their own autonomy. At last in 1925 they were granted Comarca a semi-autonomous territory status comprising of 365 small coral islands of the Archipelago (San Blas) and 2,357 km2 of coastal region in Darien. They were given the rights to forego with their traditional living style under the jurisdiction of the federal Panama government.
The traditional dressing of Kuna women consists of hand-made blouses known as “molas” with skirts. Their dresses are sewn with a reverse appliqué technique. The women also colorize their faces and noses with a special paint which they prepare from achiote seeds. The Kuna men wear a traditional Kuna shirt with pants, jeans, or shorts. The Kunas cultivate in their lands plantain, bananas, and avocados, among other fruits and some tuber plants like manioc and ñame. Their eating habits are also unique as they love to eat hunted food , a special fish (Tilapia) and plantain.
Tourism has remained the main economic source for Kuna people but for the considerable economic growth of Kunas the need of the day is to preserve their endangered heritage. Kuna Yala has a great tourism potential not only for the unique cultural habits of Kunas but also for the strategic location of San Blas islands. With little more efforts the beautiful territory of Kunas can be a travel destination of international magnitude.